Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Elections to Watch in 2015

by Shannon K. O'Neil
January 5, 2015

Latin America Elections 2015 Argentina's current president and presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner listens to Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli (L) during a visit to the Luchetti noodle factory in Buenos Aires, October 20, 2011. Argentine President Fernandez looks set to win easy re-election on Sunday after a dramatic comeback that has confounded critics of her unconventional economic policies and combative style. A center-leftist who has given the state a leading role in the economy, Fernandez has rebounded from low approval ratings and angry protests by farmers and middle-class voters that erupted early in her first term. Polls show she could win more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday (Martin Acosta/Courtesy Reuters).

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The region will hold just two presidential elections this year, choosing new leaders in Guatemala and Argentina. More prevalent will be congressional and local elections. Midterms in Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia in particular may prove bellwethers for the direction of these three important regional economies.

With term limits barring Otto Pérez Molina from running again, Guatemalans will head to the polls in September. The current front-runner is Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER), returning to the electoral ring to try and avenge his second round defeat by Pérez Molina in 2011. The president’s Partido Patriota (PP) has thrown its support behind former Minister of Communications, Infrastructure, and Housing Alejandro Sinibaldi. Sandra Torres of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), who divorced former President Álvaro Colom to be constitutionally eligible to run for office, also has significant name recognition and possibilities. Early polls suggest that none of the candidates has the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round.

More closely watched, at least from the global financial world hoping to resolve the current debt impasse, will be Argentina’s October presidential elections. President Cristina Kirchner has yet to throw her weight behind any of the precandidates, though most expect her to (grudgingly) endorse Daniel Scioli, current governor of the province of Buenos Aires, who comes from her Frente Peronista para la Victoria (FPV) and is the front-runner in most polls. Other favorites include Sergio Massa, a Kirchner defector and current federal legislator attracting dissident peronist and opposition support behind his candidacy and party, the Frente Renovador. Mauricio Macri represents the one non-peronist in the leading bunch, leveraging his track record as a well-known businessman, former president of the storied Boca Juniors soccer team, and now mayor of Buenos Aires. To win in the first round Scioli would need to convince 45 percent of voters to stick with the FPV (or 40 percent and a 10 percent advantage over the second-place finisher), otherwise he will face a November run-off.

Among midterm elections, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto and his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) may face significant challenges come July, when the entire lower house, nine governorships, and control of Mexico City’s delegations are up for grabs. The lack of immediate benefits from the recent spate of economic reforms combined with an evolving and deepening political crisis due to several instances of state associated violence and corruption make the PRI vulnerable. The question is whether the fractured PAN and PRD opposition can overcome their own problems to take advantage of their governing rival’s weakness.

Colombia will hold regional elections in October that, among other positions, will determine the next mayor of Bogotá—the second most powerful elected office in the country. With well-known leftist Gustavo Petro stepping down, candidates from across the political spectrum have jumped into the race. In polls, the leftist Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA) leads with Clara López. President Santos’ coalition, the Unidad Nacional, will likely endorse Rafael Pardo of Partido Liberal Colombiano (PLC), while former president Álvaro Uribe is already pushing Francisco Santos of the Centro Democrático (CD).

Finally, Venezuelans are scheduled to head to the polls in December to renew all 165 members of its National Assembly. In the face of falling public support—with just 25 percent approving of Maduro’s performance—rising inflation, food and basic good shortages, the government has responded with increasingly authoritarian measures. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been in pre-trial detention since February and Maria Corina Machado has been recently charged with conspiring to assassinate President Maduro (along with the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker). Assuming the elections occur as planned, the opposition will have to overcome its own deep historic divisions to do well—a challenge for newly elected executive-secretary of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity (MUD) Jesús Torrealba. If they do, and the Partido Socialisto Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) loses its legislative majority, the stage will be set for the potential recall of Maduro in 2016.

 

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